Given the challenges of organising timely delivery of medicines or organs for transplantation in a crowded city or making other commercial deliveries, the government and the private sector are both looking to leverage drones. Just this week, the government employed one such UAV to deliver vaccines in northeast India.
While not much commercial activity has happened on this front yet, the anticipation is palpable and the IISc team’s work, which has been informally presented to officials from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) during one of their visits, is hoping to create virtual pathways for drones.
Pilot scale trials for CORRIDRONE carried out at the airfield in the aerospace engineering department, IISc.
Led by professors Ashwini Ratnoo and Debasish Ghose from the department of aerospace engineering, the team is working on what it calls CORRIDRONE: Corridors for Drones. Ratnoo’s lab works on the planning part of this autonomous UAV brain.
“It’s a novel drone mobility framework which lays a lot of emphasis on the design of air corridors. These designs are based on the size and capabilities of drones. Pathways in the sky are fundamentally different from those on the ground. While providing greater freedom of design due to their virtual nature, drone corridors present a lot of challenges interrelating traffic efficiency, throughput, drone capability, and safety of operations,” Ratnoo explained to TOI.
Ghose said that the team has received Rs 70 lakh as initial funding from the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber Physical Systems (RBCCPS) at IISc, while it is in talks with ARTPARK (AI & Robotics Technology Park) for collaboration. “We’ve also discussed the project with the civil aviation secretary,” Ghose said.
The key features of their development include optimal lane design and placement, innovative geofencing solutions for confined drone movement, and a variety of planning algorithms for lane and intersection traversal.
“Lane design and arrangement in air corridors must be sensitive to a variety of considerations, namely, the dimensions of the drone, its capability in accelerating or taking a turn, and collision avoidance. An optimal trade-off between these factors is what drives our solution,” Ratnoo said.
Stating that geofencing offers virtual boundaries within which mobility of drones must be confined for safety, he said they present a three-level geo-fencing solution — the first around the drone, the second for the lane, and third for the whole corridor — offering enhanced safety while maintaining traffic efficiency through a corridor.
“In urban airspace, corridors are likely to be placed in proximity leading to the possibility of intersections, mergers, or bifurcations in lanes. Our research presents an innovative intersection management approach which intelligently utilizes a combination of change in speed and lanes for smooth mobility of drone traffic through intersections,” Ratnoo said.
The team has already completed some basic testing at the airstrip within IISc and is in talks for enhanced testing.